These Guidelines are designed to help judges, lawyers, and others involved in the Utah Judiciary
• Understand the unique communication needs of Deaf people who use a sign language of another country (i.e., not American Sign Language [ASL]) or who are not able to communicate successfully in ASL and
• Provide guidance for improving the odds of successfully accommodating those needs. These are Deaf persons who have little or no mastery of American Sign Language and for whom the traditional accommodation of providing the services of American Sign Language interpreters alone is insufficient for ensuring equal access to court and other judicial proceedings and services, or satisfying ADA requirements for accommodating disabilities.
Background on Two Classes of Deaf Persons Having Special Needs
There are two classes of Deaf persons generally considered to need the kinds of special accommodations. The first consists of those who are immigrants, migrants, or refugees who have come to this country from abroad and are fluent in their native sign language (e.g., British, Polish, or Spanish Sign Language), but who have acquired little or no American Sign Language. Thus the use of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is not a sufficient accommodation to secure satisfactory communication. The second class consists of Deaf persons who, due to numerous environmental factors combined with physiological deafness, can result in a juvenile or adult who has limited communication skills and has either limited or no facility communicating in ASL. These factors include:
• Limited opportunities for acquisition of ASL. Some Deaf people do not interact with the signing community and this inhibits their exposure to and acquisition of ASL.
• A bilingual home/school environment, e.g., deaf children born into Spanish-speaking homes who lip-read and hear Spanish until entering public school where they are exposed to lip-reading and hearing English accompanied by signs.
• The presence of a secondary handicapping condition such as mental retardation, a learning disability, or mental illness.
• A lack of natural language development during the crucial ages of 0-5 years, e.g., a deaf child born into a hearing family in which no one signs.
• Limited or no formal education.
• Social isolation. Some Deaf people lead their lives isolated from both the hearing and Deaf worlds. They may lack the general social and cultural knowledge necessary for communication in any language.
Deaf-Hearing Interpreter Team Required
A team of interpreters should be formed which includes one or more of each of two kinds of certified interpreters. First, one or more certified interpreters of American Sign Language (ASL) is essential. These are persons who meet requirements established in Utah law and the Standards for Using Interpreters in Utah and who provide the link between what speakers say in English and the Deaf interpreter. Second, one or more Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) is required. The CDI is a Deaf person who holds a valid Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) certificate from the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. and who brings to this challenging interpreting situation native ASL fluency, professional training as an interpreter, and a lifetime of personal experiences as a Deaf person. CDIs share with Deaf individuals the experience of sometimes having to mime and gesture their way through life with the non-signing public. This professional interpreter provides the link between the ASL interpreter and the Deaf party or witness who has limited or no ability to communicate in ASL.
Consecutive Mode Required
Working with a Deaf-Hearing interpreting team requires the strict use of the consecutive mode in all situations. This means the ASL interpreter begins interpreting into ASL only after the English speaker has completed an utterance. Once that interpretation is completed, the CDI then begins interpreting to the Deaf person using a variety of visual/gestural communication techniques. The process will be repeated in the reverse when the Deaf person is the source of the message to be interpreted. This means that simultaneous interpretation is not viable in this context.
Understanding Silent Communication
The process of communication in these situations will not always be as linear. Persons who communicate in ASL continuously exchange signed and non-verbal feedback in order to monitor the success of the communication. To the inexperienced observer, these exchanges could appear to be inconsistent with the unbiased role of the interpreter; however, they are in fact essential for successful communication in visual languages. The feedback exchanged between the ASL and Deaf interpreters occurs primarily to clarify a source message. For example, the ASL interpreter may ask the CDI for verification or clarification before rendering an interpretation into English. The feedback that occurs between the CDI and the Deaf party may include not only similar attempts to verify and clarify, but also a variety of strategies to convey the message and fully ascertain the response.
Tolerating Silent Communication
There will be periods of silence throughout this process. These periods of silent communication may make the court and the attorneys uncomfortable or frustrated. Judges and attorneys should understand and patient since this signing is related to communicating the question to the witness and ascertaining the witness’ response, nothing more and nothing less.
Use of Alternate Forms of Communication
The interpreters should be given wide latitude in using alternative forms of communication between themselves and the Deaf persons they are assisting who are not competent in ASL. The interpreters may need to use concrete objects such as paper and pencil for drawing, calendars, clocks, pictures, and dolls to supplement their gestures and signs. Additional space may be needed to allow the Deaf person to physically pantomime what happened.
Guidelines for Asking Questions to Deaf Persons with Limited or No Ability to Communicate in ASL
The normal process by which attorneys and judges ask questions in a court of law will not usually work successfully with either of these types of Deaf persons. The following suggestions are designed to help attorneys or judges adapt their styles of asking questions to have the best likelihood of succeeding in eliciting successful answers from these types of Deaf parties and witnesses:
• Keep questions brief and as specific as possible. For example, the Deaf person may not recognize or use any of the conventional ASL signs for the word detective. However, when permitted to act out the story of his arrest, the CDI may gesture the officer flashing his badge out from under his shirt.
• Avoid vague or abstract questions.
• Avoid double negatives.
• Present questions in sequential time order of the actual series of events in question. Switching back and forth between or among verb tenses can hamper communication.
• When the Deaf party or witness is unable to answer any other form of a question, the court should consider allowing leading questions.
• The court should be prepared for and permit the interpreters to request clarification from counsel periodically throughout questioning. The interpreters may need to know what the situation looked like visually in order to communicate the concept to the witness. This may necessitate sidebar discussions or can be part of the open court record at the discretion of the trial judge.
• The court should be prepared for the hearing interpreter to use a variety of vocal intonations when rendering the witness’ response in English. These inflections will correspond precisely to the tone and affect of the witness’ signed response.
Instructions to the Jury When a Deaf Witness Who Has Limited or No Ability to Communicate in ASL Testifies
One characteristic of the communication style of these types of Deaf persons, i.e., nodding throughout any conversation, warrants special attention by the court. Judges should advise juries of the following:
• When the Deaf witness nods, it is in no way an indication that he or she understands what is being communicated. It may merely indicate a willingness to continue the conversation.
• Similarly, nodding is no way an indication that the Deaf person is answering “Yes” or “No.”
• Ignore the nods and wait for the interpreters to render the complete response before drawing any inferences about what the witness said.
How to Become a Legal Interpreter
Legal interpreter translates spoken words from one language to another in legal settings, such as courtrooms and law offices. The work can be stressful, as interpreters need to keep pace with speakers, and their interpretations can have legal ramifications. Some interpreters have variable work hours, particularly those who are self-employed.
Steps To Be a Legal Interpreter
Step 1: Study a Foreign Language in High School
Although it’s ideal to be raised multilingual, prospective legal interpreters can also develop the necessary language skills by learning at least one foreign language in high school, such as Chinese or Spanish. Consider learning a language that might be most in demand. Aspiring legal interpreters should also focus on English classes in high school, since their career relies on precision in this language as well.
Step 2: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Many courts and other employers require that legal interpreters have a bachelor’s degree. Students don’t have to major in a foreign language, but it can be helpful. They can also benefit from choosing legal studies as a major or minor in order to learn the legal terminology required by the profession.
Step 3: Receive Formal Training and Gain Experience
Individuals interested in becoming legal interpreters can develop their skills through training programs and workshops offered through state courts and local or national interpreter associations. Some colleges also have training programs that teach legal interpreting skills. Most programs are certificate or associate degree programs, offering courses such as legal procedure and language, linguistics, and interpersonal communication. Some of these classes may be taken as part of or in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree program. Aspiring interpreters may also benefit from internships or volunteering to gain hands-on experience in their field.
Step 4: Fulfill Court Requirements and Find Employment
Most state courts mandate that legal interpreters pass a certification exam given by the court, a professional organization, or other agency. Many states recognize certification administered by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. Certification is also offered by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. Within the federal court system aspiring legal interpreters may find work as either certified interpreters, professionally qualified interpreters, or language skilled interpreters, depending on their professional credentials.
Step 5: Seek Career Advancement Opportunities
Experienced interpreters may consider pursuing supervisory positions or even starting their own firms. Individuals interested in becoming legal interpreters should have a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language, translation studies, or legal studies, and certification is typically required by the court system.
How Much Does an Interpreter Cost?
While translators work with the written word, interpreters focus on the spoken word. Professional speech interpreters frequently work in the business, healthcare, social work or judiciary fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available for contract work such as guiding international travelers, interpreters may also interpret at conferences, legal trials or corporate events. Phone and video interpreting services have increased in popularity with the advancing technology.
• Interpreting may take place in person, over the phone or via video phone.
• In-person interpreters typically cost $50-$145 per hour. For example, American Language Services offers interpreters starting at $100 per hour (or $125 for sign language) and a two-hour minimum is required.
• Phone interpreters typically cost $1.25-$3 per minute. Language Translation, Inc. offers a flat fee of $1.88 per minute for phone interpreting, for example.
• Video interpreters typically range from $1.75 to $7 per minute. For instance, LifeLinks offers video interpreting from $2.25 per minute for any language and $2.95 for sign language. A 15-minute minimum is common for phone or video interpreting.
What should be included:
• Interpreters may specialize in languages ranging from French to Mandarin, and agencies should offer a number of qualified interpreters representing the majority of world languages. Sign-language interpreters are specially trained to relay speech to the hearing impaired, typically in American Sign Language. In-person interpreters should be booked several days to weeks in advance, depending on the agency.
• Interpreter qualifications vary by state. For instance, Utah requires court interpreters to have some form of certification, but not for medical interpretation, according to the Utah Association of Professional Interpreters. Conference Interpreters may be active members of the International Association of Conference Interpreters.
• Phone or video interpreters working with large call centers are typically available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No advance reservations are needed for this service.
• Travel time is typically billed extra, as an hourly rate or a set fee. For instance, interpreters working with the Utah Courts cost an additional 45 cents per mile or $40 per hour for travel outside of their county.
• A two-hour minimum is common for in-person interpreters, so clients must pay extra if less than two hours of services are required.
• It is common for sign language interpreters to switch off every 15 or 20 minutes, according to the Utah Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, because of the mental stamina required to interpret for long periods. Therefore, if an event is scheduled for longer than two hours, a second interpreter may be required.
• Unless otherwise stated, international phone calls may incur additional charges on top of the phone interpreter’s fees.
Shopping for an interpreter:
• Search the online directory at the American Translator’s Association for a list of interpreting service companies and individuals.
• The Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers a list of tips for working with a sign-language interpreter, both before and during an event.
When you need legal help from an ASL Lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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